The Child Alive

 

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1

"Ghosts do not kill people"

Perhaps, but ghosts drive people mad. Madness is what kills. Madness and despair. Sorrow. Theses things are real. Ghosts haunt us through the realm of the tangible hurt left behind after a tragedy. They don't kill us but what they do to us slowly drains away our will.

But this was the way each therapy session for the past year had began - with the repetition to remind his wife that what had happened in the past does not have to affect the future. It also reminded him that the future was in his hands. 

And he needed to be reminded of that. Sometimes weekly. He loved his wife, but after the accident - or was it the incident, or whatever the hell they decided to call it this week - last year, he felt like the future would never get here. It was gone. Everything they had dreamt of, suddenly vanished. It was not his fault, although each session reminded him that he did in fact have a part to play in the months preceding it and in how his wife would recover.

Recover. Sometimes, for fleeting seconds, he thought that he would have a better life if he left her. One of his friends suggested he'd have grounds. Grounds. What did that mean? He remembered standing outside on a ground thawed by a week of Spring as he gave his views and heart to a woman he had known for several years. He remembered the grounds they had walked after her first stint in rehab. Her mother was murdered, causing his wife serious bouts of depression, eventually leading to her withdrawing to bottle after bottle of self-medication. But that was years ago. The grounds from last year, those were the grounds he would never forget. 

He and his wife, after ten years of marriage, decided to have a child. It was one afternoon, after she was leaving a clinic, she accidentally ran a red light, plowing into a young family crossing the street. They had, because they knew the corner so well, automatically stepped off the sidewalk. Had they waited 10 seconds until the crosswalk sign lit up, they would be alive. But they didn't. Instead, the mother and infant had died.

The judge ruled it was an accident. 

He had known the judge. Maybe it was his years as a detective or the fact that he and the judge lived in the same neighborhood; regardless, the ruling declared his wife innocent. 

But she didn't feel innocent. The depression returned. So did the drinking, but this time, the pills came with it. This time, however, he could better see what was happening. And this time he was able to stop his wife from descending into her own personal hell. 

Here they were, at purgatory. Therapy. It wasn't marriage counseling, although the marriage at times had become the focus. He was there to support his wife and he was learning how to do it as an effective husband, something he had not always been. The therapist was good. Often making it seem like there would be a future. Sometimes she would even help him to understand his role in helping to ease his wife's addiction. 

He was a veteran of the New York police department, a detective working violent crimes. He had seen his share of addiction, of the pain it caused not only the addicts, but the families – and the families left behind when the addicts found the cure. He had grown up out of New York, in a place no one had ever heard of. He had met his wife at college, while he was pursuing criminal justice and she a degree in childhood development. After college, she would become Ms. Christobel Caldwell, leaving Dalica Ganios behind. Both were grandchildren of Appalachian Greek immigrants. She would go on to work at schools while he made his way up the ranks at the NYPD, working in various specialities. Narcotics was something he left after her first stint in rehab, finally settling on violent crimes. 

He had accomplished little in his career. After all, not every cop's life is a made-for-TV movie or a long-standing series filled with neat endings. In fact, Bel, as his friends and the voice in his head called him, hated cop dramas. He'd pick them apart, failing to understand how someone who hasn't lived the blue life could write about it. Or maybe that's why they could - because they didn't live it and didn't see the bodies and bruises and death real live police officers see. Every day. Especially in a city like New York. What he did accomplish was a few awards. He had a few ribbons on his dress blues. But he was a family man. He didn't devote his time to his job like others did. 

___

The session continued like it usually did. The troubles of the week. The worries of rehab. The fight to keep looking at the world in a better way. Bel admired the therapist. He didn't know how she could do this day after day - even if she was a doctor. Sitting there hours on end listening to the struggles of others. But she always kept herself interested in the client in front of her. She was professional, he thought. Focused. Honest. Empathic. She was everything his wife needed. He tried to be those things, but this is the reason God made the mental health profession, he guessed. So that when no one else could, someone could pay someone else money to talk. In a way, it was almost like prostitution. What one person lacked from their context - communication, validation, or empty - they could pay to receive it. He didn't think the crude analogy was fair, but crude ones usually aren't. 

At the end of the session, Bel and Dalica walked out of the office, down the cramped stairwell, to the street below. Quiet was never a word used to describe a street in the city. But there was silence between them. There always was after sessions. 

He was the first to break it. "Do you need me to bring anything home for dinner?" His wife used to cooked, but now either her palette had changed or she simply had forgotten everything. Besides, it was easier if he did. It was a boundary for him. If he had to pick up dinner, then he would have to leave at a certain time. Plus, he would be able to decompress on the walk home. And, finally, it would ease his wife's day - which may mean some dessert later that night. 

She smiled a little at him. Dalica Caldwell was not a well woman but she knew enough to let her husband take care of her. "Stop by Runy's and get the usual." She leaned in for a kiss, which he obliged. She loved her husband and knew he loved her. For now, at least for the first few hours after a session, that would be enough to get her safely through the day.

He watched her leave. Her black coat looked a little gray today, the edges fraying and lint starting to stick. It was the coat she had on the day the accident occurred and had rarely taken it off. There was some blood stains on the sleeve still. To have her wear anything else, the therapist said, is the first step - the first sign Dalica was moving on. It hadn't happened yet. He was still hoping that unlike she did every morning, tomorrow she would wake up and put something else on. 

He waited for a minute, a little loss - but needing to get back to work. He walked across the street to the deli where he got a pack of gum and a bottle of water. 

From the deli's window, he looked at the door to the therapist's office and waited for seemingly nothing in particular. He looked at his watched and pulled out his phone. His smart phone had an app that would let him check to see where his wife was. She was where she was supposed to be - near home. 

He finished his water and walked back to the therapist's office. The department's HR had been on him to see someone about his own emotional toll. But he had repeatedly declined. As he walked the stairs, he wondered if - especially since he had seen real progress between the therapist and his wife - if maybe the desk jockey wasn't onto something. Maybe he did in fact need to see a counselor. After all, the department would pay for it and it would give him an extra hour a week off. 

But that's not why he was here. Bel walked in, past the now-empty secretary's desk - she had taken lunch as was customary this time, every week - and into the doctor's office. 

Dr. Helen Green lay welcoming, her clothes neatly folded in her desk, sprawled across the sofa where he had his wife had just set. He had seen that look in her eyes every Wednesday - at this time - for the past 9 months. It was his hour, they used to joke. Now, words were needless.

____

Dalica slowly walked home, to the apartment she shared with Bel - as if they were roommates. Some days it felt like they were but she knew that was her head  - the apparition of Dr Green lingering in her head reminded her - putting up a wall between them. Every since the murder - she never called it that out loud but she knew it what it was - she couldn't bring herself to feel, which meant she couldn't fully bring herself to let her husband love her. They still had their time together, still had dinner and talks and long strolls. They even had a vacation a few months ago. And truthfully, it was beautiful. But if she didn't love herself it was difficult to let others. 

But she did love her husband. He was the only real person in her haunted world. Everywhere she looked, the people around her were hollowed shells. Sometimes, in frightening moments, she could almost see them decay in front of her. It was like looking at two versions of the same soul, something she saw herself when she looked into the mirror. She had no hope, no longing for anything beyond just getting home. It had been that way since that day, or maybe it was before that day — they all ran together now. She could stand at the corner and see yesterday's pain, wanting to scream to the moment to just stand still.  She felt like a tragedy phylum, as if she was a magnet pulling in all sorts of darkness, a darkness that threatened to take her soul. 

But one ray of light was her husband. He was there to pick her up years ago when she wanted nothing more than to climb in a bottle and be put on a shelf. He was among the first on the scene when she had murdered that family. He was there when she woke up even in the middle of the night screaming to be released. Bel was there when she wanted nothing to do with him - and he had begged her to let him stay by her side when she told him to go, that she would let him go. It had not been a scene to remember, with her once more doing what she could to numb her pain. He had walked in, found her passed out. Bel had waited, with his customary patience, until she was recovered, and said nothing when she did. Later that night, she had begged him to commit her, just put her away somewhere and move on. But he didn't. He spent hours begging her to let him stay, to let him love her forever. 

After every session, she would walk to the corner where she had taken the lives of a family — a family not unlike the one she grew up in. A mother. A father. A fat little baby just a few months old. The baby hadn't yet begun to crawl but was just starting to jabber a bit. The big sister, she was one herself, was always beaming about her little sister. Dalica recounted her testimonies the grandparents had given at her trial. The father simply did not show up. It was the perfect family, all taken away in a matter of minutes. And this was that corner. She could see her car barrelling down the road. Maybe she was looking at something or maybe she was distracted. She didn't remember what it was — and that was normal, they told her. She had lost a few minutes before the accident and was unlikely to ever get it back. 

But this was the corner. The one that took her life. 

But it didn't. Rather, she weekly visited it to remind the corner that she could not go on living, not while she could see the blood still staining the pavement. Maybe she was there to offer herself as a sacrifice, and if only the corner would accept her, everything would be restored. So, each week while her husband walked back to his desk at the precinct, she would quietly stand at the corner waiting to see if some Faustian bargain would be granted. She was ready to trade her soul for those she took. And each day she silently begged God or whomever for the chance. Any chance. The chance. To do it all again. But the day never came. 

After her solace, she turned for the final leg of her journey home, to the apartment and to the four walls that kept her isolated from the ghosts around her. There, she had two cats. She had her bed she would lay in for the next few days, until it was time for the next session. There, she had her pictures of her mother and the memories contained in little objects collected through time she could hold when Bel wasn't around. It wasn't that he minded, but she could always tell he bothered him if she focused too much on her mother. While the home was sometimes a prison, sometimes it was the courtyard. Even in the shadows under the windows, there was the freedom not to be. Not to be seen or heard or patted like a sick child. At their apartment, she had the liberty to sink into the void and wait until something agreed to rip asunder her spirit and flesh.

___

"You know I can't say anything," Helen said as she slide on her dress. This time had been a particularly good one and she thought that the post-coitus euphoria may just cause her to break patient-client privilege. "She's getting better but she is just not there yet." There. Helen had promised the couple almost a year ago that "there" was a real place that would allow both Bel and Dalica to begin to try for a child again. That was her goal, every bit of her goal, and she knew it, even as she went to the washroom to clean up between her legs and to remove his smell from her. 

She knew it was a disappointment to him, but she couldn't help it. Dalica was fragile at the moment and any push to do anything major would likely cause a major break. Regardless of the weekly trysts she had with Bel, her first and only duty was to her client - Dalica. Over the course of the year, she had come to care for her, more than empathy - more than a person-to-person approach. Her goal, like Dalica's was to have a healthy Dalica. Her goal, like Bel's, was to have the couple once again began the process of having a child, of building a family. 

She watched him leave, in just enough time to be missed by her returning assistant. It worked out better than way. No messy explanations of why, when everyone was at lunch, a client's husband was emerging just a bit disheveled — men never could hide it; it was almost like they would do their best to show they just had sex — from her office when the same person was supposed to have left with his wife an hour before. They had been caught once, raising some red flags, but that was easily explained away with a loss of a coat. Having it happen more than that would force them to change their schedule, which would force them to consider if it was just sex or something more. And no one wanted that. 

She set down, grabbed a meal bar, and began to prepare for her next client. A child had run away several years before and not been heard from since. Now the mother believed the child had died, which had set off all sorts of issues — including one where the child was haunting the mother's dreams. It was not an abnormal case, given that the mother felt guilty for not doing more to either keep the child at home or to find the child. In Helen's opinion, the mother was ill-equipped to handle the child by herself, which led to increasing hostility with some instances of abuse. The child had run away and was, like millions of other children, forever lost. Having realized that, the mother was now pressed by guilt, which was triggering psychosomatic impressions of the "ghost child." Helen's job was simple, to help refocus the guilt and negative emotions while helping the mother move on. 

But her thoughts turned to Bel. She could still smell him and their deed in her office. It was faint, but she could tell. He had a certain cologne he wore that wasn't overpowering, but just enough for her. She looked the sofa for any signs of their actions, or their release (she'd call it), and was almost remorseful she didn't find any. After months of this, they had learned to use all of their passion up together, but turn that passion into simple discreteness in the aftermath. Still, she wondered, what would the next client say if she sat in a giant puddle. She giggled to herself, under her breath.

Her assistant alerted her that the client was waiting for her. Helen straightened herself up, did a final sweep of the room, and opened the door. 

____

Fr. Sefres, the priest at St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church, looked up as the door to his office opened. It was the church secretary, Oona, and as she usually did this time every Wednesday, told him he had a penitent soul ready for confession. He didn't have to guess — it was the same soul for the last few months. Sefres put on his vestments, a solemn act — a rite, really — he cherished. He was near 70, and had nearly forgotten any moment he was not either vested or waiting to be vested.

He walked through the marbled halls of the church, his boots clicking on the floor and his cossack making an almost whistling sound as it rubbed against the rest of his woolen suit. There, at the altar, was Christobel Caldwell, a parishioner ever since he and his wife — what was her name? — had moved to New York City. As expected, Caldwell faced the icon of Christ above the altar, crossed himself (in the Eastern fashion, not the West) twice. He then kissed the Gospel book — it was opened to Mark 5 today — and the cross. Then, kneeling before the priest, repeated that which was repeated every Wednesday at this time:

"I, a sinner, confess to Almighty God, the Lord, One in the Holy Trinity; to the Immaculate Virgin, the Mother of God, to Saint John Damascus my patron saint, to all the Saints, and to you, my spiritual father, all my sins."

Sefres waited while Caldwell repeated his sins of lying, cheating at cards, and various other small and incidental — almost trivial — sins. Sefres had yet to hear Caldwell say anything really ground shaking, but was somewhat satisfied with his parishioner. These were the same sins from last week, and the week before. It was almost so tedious Sefres had to repent himself of false humility. But instead, the kind priest waited until the soul had been unburdened. Finally, Caldwell said, 

"For these sins, and for all my sins which I cannot remember, I am truly sorry because I have offended God who is good. I sincerely repent and I promise, with the help of God, to better my way of life. And so, I ask you, my spiritual father, for saving penance and absolution."

Sefres smiled, placed his epitrachelion on Bel's head, caught his breath, and said, "May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, by the grace and mercies of His love for us, pardon you, my child, Christobel, all your faults, and I, an unworthy priest, by His authority given me, pardon and absolve you of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Sefres waited in silence until Bel stood up. "My son! So good to see you today. I take it the sessions went well?" Sefres wasn't just a priest, but Bel's longtime friend. While they had first met when Bel had moved to town, they would later become friends over several police cases. One particularly memorable one involved the priest's son who had taken up with some local drug users. Bel had used his position to make sure the young man would spend time in rehab rather than jail. Sefres would never forget that, and neither did his son who had finally recovered and moved on. 

Bel smiled, a little. "She's not there yet, but she is getting there the doctor said." He paused. He had thought about confessing more things to the priest, but Bel, to be honest, wasn't sure it was necessarily a sin. "She's doing better. This past weekend, she made breakfast and we went for a walk." 

"And, my son, how are you doing with this?" 

"Me? The same as last week. I'm in a holding pattern that I don't want to get out of because I'm afraid of what it would mean. Don't get me wrong, Father — I want her to get better – but I don't want to ask God for any help here. I'm afraid he might take her away from and..." he choked up a bit. "Well." Bel was a man and didn't cry. He stopped himself just short of a hazy eye. 

Sefres frowned a bit, his tanned Greek cheekbones – no matter what cold winters came his way, his features stayed olive toned — bringing his silver beard to his eyes, almost making them disappear. "Christobel, God will answer your prayers. This time next year, you'll have a son or a daughter and you will have forgotten about all of this." He walked over the the Gospel book. "In Mark 5, Our Lord was able to cast out demons and put them into the swine. He took the demons from a young man possessed. Maybe he was possessed by actual demons or maybe these demons symbolize those things he had done in his past. Or think about Job. In the end, God appears and brings the sunshine."

"I know, Father, I know, but I really need that to happen soon. I'm afraid I'm going to lose her to her own demons — her ghosts she calls them — or maybe just lose myself." Sefres had been there before, when Dalica had flirted with that particular hell. 

"I know, but you and I will pray with the Saints that this doesn't happen." They made small talk for a few more minutes about how the upcoming Mets season would likely be another disappointment. Bel had no interest in baseball, or sports in general, but he knew Sefres did as did most native New Yorkers, so he tried to at least feign interest.

Sefres said his goodbye as Bel walked out the cathedral doors and back to his work day. He wished he had more faithful parishioners like Christobel, but Sefres had watched many like him come and go. The priest walked back to his office, devested, and set down to eat his small lunch. Oona, like she did every afternoon, had already left. He picked up a small book and over some pita chips, devoured the prayers of St. Basil as he had many times before. 

___

Bel started to finally walk back to his desk at the 17th, leaving St. Mary's behind. His father had been a nominal Catholic before he met Bel's mother who was a Greek Orthodox. He knew enough not to argue with Bel's mother, but didn't want to hurt his own parents, so Bel's father and mother decided on the Byzantine Rite church, a common sight in southwestern Pennsylvania. Bel was raised in a strict Greek Catholic home, due to his mother's influence, but still stood out given his rather English sounding name. Granted, the coal mining community around where he grew up had a plethora of names and nationalities and ethnicities, but he was still the English boy in a Greek church. 

The police detective looked into the distance, past the people walking around him, anxious or apathetic to get to their destinations. He was a detective and liked to watch people. It was his private game he played with himself, to see if he could guess things about the person. After all, what police detective did not subtly want to see themselves as a Sherlock Holmes. But this time, he ignored them because in the distance, he could hear sirens — police and ambulance. He wondered if it was a car accident or maybe a pedestrian had been hit. This was the 17th contained several diplomatic communities, meaning that often times foreign nationals, new to the United States, would often forget the various traffic laws — and common New York mores — and find themselves involved in a collision of some sort. But this wasn't one of those times. 

Instead, looking up 53rd, Bel noticed more of the NYPD's patrol units arriving. It was then that his mobile's radio came to life. "All units, proceed to 53rd and 2nd. 10-13 needed. Possible 10-54." They needed a detective for a dead body. Dammit, he thought to himself. He had avoided these cases for the past year. He wasn't squeamish, but these cases usually took time — time he didn't want to take away from his wife. But more than likely, even those the precinct was a few blocks away, the closet detective to the case. He keyed up his mic, "Caldwell, badge number, 25314. I'll be there in a few minutes. On foot."

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Joel

and be gentle, as I am also the editor... and a worse editor than I am writer

Joel

give me honest opinions, yo

2

In New York, 150 people die each day. Some, a few, are murdered. Everyone else dies in accidents or by natural causes. Of the total, a few die peacefully. Even those murdered can die peacefully. However, many of the 150 die in pain. There are water accidents. Drowning victims, if recovered quickly, simply appear cold and lifeless, but if left in the water for any amount of time, become bloated. Sometimes, the bodies have served as a food source for whatever lurks beneath the Big Apple's waters.

Sometimes, bodies are found in compromising situations. These were the single people, left alone for extended periods of their life. They never developed the common sense to get help with changing a light bulb, but instead would climb on a counter — and usually a wet one — to change it, only to suddenly discover common sense a few milliseconds before their neck attempted to dent a cabinet corner. 

Sometimes, a body would be discovered that bore a resemblance to someone a detective knew. Or a body would be discovered in such a way as to sicken the entire attending force. But rarely was a body discovered that simply caused the officers on scene to simply stand around and look, their training forgotten, their minds emptied. 

That body was usually that of a child. 

When Bel arrived on the scene, several officers were hovering over the scene, confused. He knew two or three of the faces, and they had been to murder scenes before. But it is always difficult to take a child, laying there, gone. There seemed to be only a few scenes more bereft of humanity than that of an abandoned body of a murdered child. He had turned down a few such scenes before, not wanting to handle this, but this time, he didn't have a choice. This time, he was the closest and thus the first detective on the scene, even if he had slow walked. This time, Fate had pushed him into the one place he didn't want to go. 

He surveyed the scene, seeing the boy — about 7 or 8 — laying on the ground. Blood had pooled around the corners his mouth, like spittle after a good night's sleep. His hair, brown, was caked with mud and moisture. Bel's immediate guess sweat. That meant the boy had died while experiencing a high heart rate. Maybe he was running from his attacker or maybe he was scared. He wasn't completely naked, but was covered with bruises in an odd pattern. There were whelps, but also half-moon discolorations as well. His ankles still bore the marks of having been tied with heavy rope. Bel knew that his observances would only reveal a small portion of the truth of the boy, a boy laying in front of a town home. 

An officer approached, "Detective."

He cleared his throat, calling Bel from his trance. 

Bel took out his pad and pen, looking at the officer. He hadn't seen this one before. The blue man looked to be fresh out of the academy, maybe by a year or two. "How was he found?" The officer told Bel that a bicycle messenger had found him. She had been on her way to deliver a package a few blocks down, coming this way like she always did. She only stopped here because of a street cleaner. Once the cleaner had passed, she noticed the boy's foot, the rest of him covered by several bags of trash. "File her statement with the Captain." he looked around. "Where's the trash?"

The officer pointed Bel to the piles of what appeared to be carefully restacked piles of garbage bags. They had done this as a means to preserve the scene. The bike messenger has thrown them around in a haste to get to what she had hoped to be a child alive. "Make sure the bags get to the station; see if there is anything in there that can help." 

Bel finally made his way to the body, hesitantly, slowly. He moved as if he was in pain, with each step some new maledy suddenly erupting in him. He didn't want to do this. It brought his pain to the surface and memories neatly tucked away pounded his vision. With each step bringing him closer, Dalica and his world  became separated. He was already planning out the lie he would tell so as to not speak of this - this body, this boy - to his wife. Further and further she drifted from him. 

He looked down. The boys pale blue eyes, still very much dead, pierced his soul. The young lips were closed and persed, but with words still to say. He could almost make out a "b" sound. He said a silent prayer, begging God to condemn the person who did this. 

"Make sure the ME gets this report ASAP. We need to see if we can find his parents," he said to whatever officer would hear him first. The scene was chaos but without sound, or movement. Something evil had happened here and no one wanted to break it. In the meantime, Bel would do what he had done for a year - give the case to someone else, claiming family issues. 

He noticed something on the ground, something near the boy's mouth. It was small, bronze. "Get me gloves and an evidence bag." One thing was for sure, he was still a good detective. He put on the latex, and bent down to pick up what appeared to be a coin of some sort. On one side, it had a Roman numeral, XI, while on the other side it was dated 2015, reading something in a language other than English. His guess was Latin. He put it in the evidence bag, handing everything to the same novice office. 

Bel spent the next hour waiting for the ME's office to arrive to pick up the body. In the meantime, he had done what he was paid to do, combing the area for anything that may stand out. His initial assessment was that the boy had actually made his own way there, and getting cold, hide under a pile of bags, trying to remain warm. If that was the case, than this was likely not a murder but at best a manslaughter due to negligence. Once they found the parents, it would be sorted out and decided. He wagered with himself that the boy was abused and ran away from home. 

"Are you the detective in charge?" It was one of the ME's assistants. Davis or something. "We found this under his body. Thought you'd might want to look." He handed Bel what looked like a letter. In a pile of trash, there was bound to be letters but this one had the same inscription as the coin. And an address. 

Bel turned it over in his hands a few times. No reason, except Bel didn't want to do anything with it. "Thanks," he muttered. He looked at the address and saw that it was only a few blocks away. He figured he might as well as check it out. Bel motioned for young officer to come over. "Tell dispatch you're coming with me." 

They walked a little ways in silence. Bel had a few friends on the force, all detectives, caring very little for the often temporary blue shields dotting the landscape. They were there to handle other things, things that didn't concern Bel, and if there was ever something that did concern Bel and needed their help, that too was temporary. Thus, he had no reason to strike up a conversation. Granted, he was often quiet and so his refusal to converse was often mistaken for his introverted nature. He simply had a difficult time being rude. 

He looked at the sky, wondering if he could tell the time by the overcast yet. But this was March. In New York City. March in New York was sometimes a dim affair, providing temporary sunlight, some hope that spring soon approached. Today was not such a day. Like the last few months, the clouds are mere blankets of gray and white and shades of the mundane. So instead he looked at his watch. It was nearly time to think about going home. He felt a sudden but brief compunction that maybe he should have something of an empathetic moment over the dead child, but rather only felt empathy of the emptiness of his own emotional well.

They arrived at their location, a brown cobblestone apartment building, maybe the last of its kind in this borough. It was unappealing, with three stories of no doubt small and ungracious flats meant to house single people in town only until their dreams died. The door was red, with hints that this was simply the latest - and cheapest - color applied to a door, the latest in 50 years of attempting to fall within the neighborhood code requirements. Several windows were open, meaning that a central heating and cooling unit hadn't been installed. Otherwise, it was a plain and unassuming building. He looked at the mailbox, finding the apartment number and rang the buzzer.

He stepped back and waited. 

"Should we try another one," the officer asked. 

Bel glanced at him briefly and rang another number. Someone answered. "This is Detective Caldwell with the NYPD. We need to speak to one of your neighbors. Could you buzz us in?"

The waiting investigators heard the buzz and then the click that seemed to be New York's second national anthem, proclaiming high security in the land of the free. Bel led the way up the stairs to the second floor apartment, third on the left. Nothing greeted them. No family name or placard showing the hopes of a young Midwesterner trying to make it in the Big Apple. Bel knocked. 

He knocked again. 

Finally, "This is Detective Caldwell with the NYPD. We need to ask you a few questions." 

Nothing. Not even the sound of someone trying desperately to be quiet. Bel looked at the officer and motioned for them to go to the next apartment. 

Bel didn't have to knock. Instead, he was met by an open door, blocked by a less than charming new adult man. Brown hair. Dark eyes. And an accent from, maybe, Ohio? "Do you know where your neighbor is?"

The occupant looked around like a deer in the headlights. "No. I don't think I've ever seen him. I mean, I hear the door close sometimes, in the middle of the night. But that's because he doesn't know how to shut the door." 

Bel motioned for the office to write it down. "Do you know anything about him?" He didn't. The same story was repeated. Clearly, Bel thought, the loud door banging had gotten under the man's skin. The detective handed his card over. "Call the precinct number when he comes back." 

"Is something wrong?"

"No, we just need to talk to him about a few things. Nothing too big." 

"Oh, okay."

Bel thought for a moment. "Is there a building super living here?" The still-yet-dreamer confirmed this. Bell and the officer went downstairs to find the Mr. Mabuz, who seemed to have an office in the basement. At this moment, Dalica called to ask about supper. Sure, he said, for the second time today, he'd pick something up. Nope, he lied, nothing going on the office and he should be home on time, depending on the traffic. She told to watch out for some expected snow showers later, about drive home time, to which he expressed his appreciation. He said he loved her and waited for a second for her to say it back. Some days she didn't. Those were the bad days.

At the bottom of the basement stairs was the super's office. Down a dark hallway, which surely held the dreams of horror novelists, were several more rooms. Storage closets, probably. 

The super was not in, but hadn't gone too far since the door open and the light was on. Bel stood in the doorway and looked around. He could see a few adult magazines, some how-tos, and even a copy of the NYC building code. The super must have been at the end of lunch given the fast food containers still present on his desk. He looked at his watch and set a mental goal. He'd give the super 15 minutes and then they'd leave. There was always tomorrow.  

Bel decided at this moment he would engage the officer and finally decided to look at the name tag. "Officer Daniels," he said aloud to make sure he knew he was ready to talk. "How long have you been on the force?"

The officer looked a bit startled. He'd figured the detective, like most detectives, didn't have time to engage the blue. "Over a year now, sir." Daniels had nothing new the NYPD intentionally, straight out of a one tour stint in the Army where he'd served in Iraq. He had grown up on Queens, went to military after two years of college and came home to serve one of the largest armed forces in the world, the New York Police Department. He wasn't really interested in becoming a detective as he wanted to stay on the streets as long as possible. That's admirable, Bel thought. Not everyone was cut out to be a detective and if you weren't, just stay in uniform. 

A few more minutes of chitchat - not quite fifteen minutes - passed. Bel volunteered nothing of himself and had stopped listening a few minutes before he look at his watch. 

"I want you to swing by here tomorrow and take this guy's statement. I doubt it'll be anything more than a list of repairs and complaints for our guy, but you never know." He half-shrugged his shoulders. "Turn it into the duty officer. By then, they'll have assigned someone to the case."

"You aren't doing it, sir?"

Bel look down at the magazines, almost wishing he hadn't. Instead of looking like he was trying to assuage guilt he should have had at begging off early from a murder case, now it looked like he was eying the porno magazines on the cluttered desk. He hadn't looked at those things since before he was married, having had all the physical gratification one could handle at the start. Now, he harbored a moral stance against the degradation of women. Of course, that wasn't the message conveyed. Now it must have appeared Bel was eying the magazine and wanted to rush off to handle anything that may have arisen. 

"No, not this one. I've got more than a few right now and I just don't have the time." He had said it so much it was as natural as breathing. "Just make sure you get the statement tomorrow." 

"You want me to wait around for him now, sir?" Daniels was that first year on fire insistent. 

Bel bristled a bit. "No. We've got a few things to do right now, and to be frank, Officer, it looks like a case of child neglect. My guess is that once you find the boy's name, you'll find the parents, and then you'll find your prime suspects." He put his notepad away, his signal that he was done. He motioned for Daniels to lead the way out of the room, up the stairs, and out of the building. 

 

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3

He stood there watching the accident unfold. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he was helpless, but that did not stop him from reaching through the ether to throw his hands up, signaling to his wife that she had to slow down. 

"Stop!" he tried to say. But he couldn't. Sometimes you can yell in dreams, although for Bel, it usually transcended his REM and erupted on the outside where his wife would startle awake. She was a light sleeper. Maybe it was the medication. Instead, this time, he couldn't. He wanted to. Because he couldn't yell, he became frustrated and panicked. He dropped to his knees and and cried. "Stop!" he tried again. 

"Help me!" That was a shout. But not from dream-Bel. That was someone in the distance of Bel's mind. Suddenly, the dream about his wife's accident on that — that — day turned dark and cold. He could feel his sleeping body tense, like something was hovering over him. His sleep paralysis — a natural condition meant to keep the body from acting out the dream — was losing its grip on him. Somehow this nighttime dalliance with memories was becoming lucid. He could feel at once his sleeping self and yet remained stuck in his dream. "Help me!" came the shout. A child's shout. 

He startled awake, breathless. He could feel the fear slither off of him as his calmness returned. What was that, he wondered. He had had the same dream several times over, but never once heard that shout. Did it have something to do with the dead child from earlier? Maybe, he thought. But, he wasn't one prone to analyzing his dreams. He paid good money for someone else to do that for him. 

He looked at his clock. It was 3 am. A rather stupid hour to be awake, given that he only had a few more hours to sleep. He got up, stumbled to the restroom and relieved himself. He looked in the mirror and could see, only by the light of the streets below seeping into the window, his face. It was old. Suddenly, it was old and misshapen, like he had aged 30 years since he closed his eyes last. His skin quickly cooled, his heart racing. He closed his eyes, flushed the toilet and went back to lay down. He didn't want to see if the image in the mirror was real.

He tossed and turned for a few minutes until Dalica awoke. She cuddled next to him, aware that he had once again had that dream. She knew because he was stiff, and she knew because he had talked about it in session. It was his penance, he suggested, for making her go to the appointment alone so he could catch up with old friends. 

He felt her warm hand reach over him and gentle lay there. He was trying to go back to sleep, but the dream wouldn't stop. If he was able to finally slip into sleep again, it would start again. "Help me!" he would hear. He'd startle again. Each time, his wife would move closer. Finally, about 4, her felt her hand start to move in under his boxers. He felt the only part of the man that needed to be regularly stiff began to come alive. He wasn't in the mood, but he wasn't necessarily not in the mood, either. He was alive, after all, and somewhat prided himself on being able to keep up with two women. 

He slide down the boxers and turned over. Morning breath or not, they started to kiss each other. He gently slid up and off her nightgown, some old ragged thing she had had since their first year together. It was plain, the white given way to years of use and washing. It was familiar, to him, and presented no surprises any more. His hand found her right breasts, something he promptly - and rather profoundly - massaged. That was the way to get her going, she always told him. His hands could strangle the grip of a pistol, restrain a tough suspect, and gentle make her feel alive. 

From there, he gently traced the outline of her body, to her hips, to her thighs and to the place more of him would eventually fill. There, he could feel her the trail's end. He had, times before, been eye level to the peak, but decided against that today. This, clearly, wasn't meant to be an intense love-making session. This was just about him, he know — although he wasn't opposed to taking some time to see if he could bring her to a fitful end. His fingers made the way through the thick — she didn't shave and barely pruned – undergrowth and find that slick center. She moaned. That was the spot. He was in no rush, so he gentle move in deeper. 

His mouth had found the same right breast, his tongue the hardening nipple. For her part, her hand was still working his shaft, seeming to care little for rhythm but vigorously pummeling the head. He was starting to have some pre-cum, but she took her finger and rubbed it around to provide some lubricant for her manual gyrations. Both were frantically kissing the other. 

She was moaning and moving more and more as his fingers, working a dual attack with his mouth, allied with his tongue, was creating a stormy beachhead. Throughout the years, he'd learn when she was able to finish and he could by her motions that she was close. She came, the lips underneath quivering, her muscles contracting with the waves of orgasim. She bit her lip, and moaned gently once again. It was his turn now. She rolled him over, mounting him. She dug her nails into his chest as she started moving faster. 

He wondered — he had to keep his mind busy — what she was thinking during this. Afterall, she was already finished. She had gotten hers. Was she just trying to get him to finish, or was she trying for her second? The way she was riding him, he wondered if she wasn't picturing herself riding a horse at full speed. He certainly felt like he was in a full gallop where she was on top of him, with a riding crop, pelting him with the leather until he went – 

— he let loose, shooting the warmth he hated to keep for himself into her. She noticed, which made her rev up just for just a bit. 

She collapsed next to him, out of breath. They laid in silence for a while, not even moving. He wondered if he could catch another hour of sleep. That made him think of the dream again. He couldn't shake it, that somehow that new part of the dream was something he had to focus on. It felt more than a dream — like it was real. The sound actually felt like a person inside his dream, and even standing over him as he slept. 

He got up and took a shower, beginning his morning routine. 

____

His walk into the precinct this morning was filled with regret. Sex with Dalica was always good. Mostly. But since several months after the accident, it was usually given to alleviate her guilt. He knew that, but he was a man too, one with a strong predilection to physical enjoyment. Hell, he figured, most men were. He'd wager that even gay men liked to have as much sex as straight guys. But, he did not like sex erupting from her being guilty, as if her offering herself to him would somehow restore the wholeness of his life, causing him to forget about what was going on. He hated that. He hated that he enjoyed it so much. The sex, not the guilt. He also hated that he cared enough to do more than just take it. He had to give back too. But, he didn't hate it enough to turn it down. 

He sometimes wondered if by having sex with her, he wasn't in some way enabling her.

He walked into the briefing room, a room slightly more depressing than a holding cell just a few floors down. It was lined with maps, announcements, flags, and pictures of police officers no longer on the force. Only a few had retired naturally. It wasn't well-lit, even though it had a wall of windows. Maybe it was because there was a building too close to the wall that faced south. Maybe it was because everyone who came into the room seemed to bring a dark cloud with them. No less than Bel. This was the only room, however, he could control. He regularly refused assignments. No one had yet to challenge him, for some reason. Guilt. Or apprehension. Regardless, whatever reason that prevented others from challenging Bel's apathy, he welcomed them. He had no issue with people feeling sorry for him and letting him choose his assignments. 

He grabbed a coffee, a banana, and sat down. He watched as his fellow detectives walked in, along with a few beat cops. One of the administrative staff, Lucy, walked in. She was a rather thin, but attractive, woman with long flowing black hair and a rich olive skin. She was recently separated from her husband of 10 years. She had, as she told Bel, simply had enough of not having other relationships. The sex was bad enough to wish it didn't happen again. She had propositioned him shortly before she left her husband. He in turn had scolded her both on workplace issues and on the idea of a married woman sleeping with a married man — other than her husband, of course. Since then, she never looked at him and if forced to speak to him, did so in clipped tones, with her dark eyes glaring past him. 

Following her was Captain Bryceton, a long-time veteran of the police force, but only a year or so at the 17th precinct. He stood tall, part of his Welsh heritage he told everyone. His skin, on the other hand, would often reveal the punchline. He would jokingly say he didn't know where that came from, however. his deep black — almost blue — skin was covered today by the starched faint yellow dress shirt. He had, as usual, spilled coffee on it. When he had first arrived, it was his favorite game to see which of his underlings would notice the latest spill and tell him about it. Usually, they'd end up working a midnight shift for a week. 

He threw down his packet of papers and looked particularly befuddled this morning. Bel couldn't help but notice the death-like glare — the go-to-hell-look — exchanged between the Captain and his secretary. Bel wondered if Lucy had extended her offer to others. Didn't know whether to be offended or otherwise, but in a passing moment, no longer cared.  

"A few matters of office business before we get started," the Captain began. He picked up his coffee cup and as he raised it to his lips, the room made that sound one makes on a roller coast, raising the level of noise as if the coaster was reaching its peak before barreling down into possible oblivion. When he sipped it, and didn't spill it, the room cheered. "Shut up, the lot of you." Still with the Welsh line. 

"First, Lucy is leaving us, as of Friday." He paused. "I'm having someone sent up from the pool, so you'll have to be on your best behavior until we find a replacement. Don't scare the new girl off or you can all work midnight shifts for a month." 

"Second. The death Caldwell brought in yesterday is now officially a homicide." He dropped his eyes. Always a terrible thing to give that news, especially for a child. "Caldwell, you're going to head this up. Select one of these lowlifes and find out what happened. The trial is already cold and we don't need it getting worse." Caldwell's hand shut up, but as if he had somehow knew that was going to happen, he continued. "That patrolman that was with you, he found a missing person's report filed by the parents. It was three months ago. Start there." 

The Captain continued, but never once made a glance towards Caldwell. He went through the other assignments, with nothing else mattering much to Caldwell. Bel was steaming, however. He didn't want this. He had to take care of his wife. She couldn't be left alone and she couldn't be told that he was investigating the death of a child. Murder. The murder of a child. Regardless, he simply didn't want to work this case. This was the exact reason why he should have turned the other way instead of doing his job. His training was one thing, but years of practice was another. He should have followed the practice. 

He didn't tell the Captain this, but instead gave his well rehearsed rendition of the police detective with personal problems — both internally and at home, with the psychologist to prove it. He simply could not take on such a case that would potentially harm his well-being — his wife's well-being — possibly leading to a breakdown. Nothing seemed to phase the Captain this time, however. 

"Detective, you detect stuff, right?" Both men set silent. "Bel, you've been off active duty rotation for a while now. You've passed up assignment after assignment because of the same excuse." 

Bel looked at his Captain. He was still tall, even sitting. He noticed some specks of gray in the hair around his temples. 

"Look, I've spoken to both your union rep and I've asked for that doctor lady to sign off on this. Both have." A moment to let that sink in, the Captain thought. "If you can do everything else you've been doing, then you will need to do this. You'll need to get started on this today, so pick your partner and get out there."

Bel could have sworn he heard the Captain say that Helen had signed off on putting him back on active rotation. She hadn't mentioned anything about it yesterday — not that they had shared much beyond human bodily fluids. Even then, she could have warned him. He'll have to make a call. Maybe there would still be time. But he would need a partner. 

"That patrolman, Daniels. Can I have him?" 

The Captain leaned back in his chair. This was an old game with detectives. They would select a patrol cop to work with them so that they would have to do all of the work. You put two detectives together, then work would mostly be split. "Fine, but Bel," he began, as Caldwell turned to face the door, "don't half-ass this. Some sicko murdered this kid, and from what the ME said, did a number on him. You can't protect and serve him any more, so the best thing you can do is to find the boy's killer. Whether or not he survives after that..." He trialed off. 

Bel understood. You don't murder kids. Whether or not the perpetrator would survive the initial arrest or find his end in a holding cell, it was certain justice would be paid. The detective turned and walked out the door, heading to Lucy's desk. She had already started clearing it out. 

"Lucy," Bel half-coughed. She didn't move. "Lucy, I need you to get me Officer Daniels — his badge number is in my report from yesterday — and tell him he is going to be transferred here for a bit. The Captain probably needs the paperwork." 

She turned at him, for the first time in a long time that he could remember, she looked directly at him. "Fine. Will there be anything else?" She wasn't brisk. She wasn't cold. She wasn't warm either. She held out her hand for the papers Bel had, took them, and picked up the phone. She was going to call the desk sergeant and have the transfer process begun. After the conversation was done, she looked up at Bel. Her eyes were wet. Not tears or anything, but wet. "Is there anything else, Detective?"

He was surprised at his emotion. He felt some sort of stab, something of a concern. A feeling of anguish washed over him, and it wasn't something he was used to feeling. Even with Dalica, the height of his emotions rarely rose to that of cautious concern. This? He felt like he knew why she was upset but somehow something blocked it. 

"No, Lucy. Thank you."

She choked back something. "You bastard..." he heard her mumble as he walked away. I guess it is true, he thought, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, although for the life of him, he couldn't think of why turning her down for sex was now eliciting this scorn. 

____

Helen looked up from her notepad. She was jostling notes down about her last client, a 50-ish year old woman, recently married for the first time to her long-time lover who was recently widowed. Florence was having difficulty adjusting to the new life. She had spent her youth, while madly in love with Bill, sleeping with others, traveling, and building up a nice career (and nest egg) for herself as a financial advisor. After Bill's wife had died, he had almost immediately asked her to make their 25-year relationship official, to which she promptly agreed. They had spent years with weekend and the occasional midnight rendezvous, acting like newlyweds, but they had never spent a lot of time together, with their clothes on. 

Florence had admitted that while they still enjoyed sex, something was lacking. She was also missing the variety she once had. She was fit, with a still-youthful reflection in her well-maintained (Helen suspected surgery helped) face. She was rather striking, Helen admitted, and often bragged about getting younger guys into her bed. Now? Now she had 60-year old Bill in their bed, with little to no action except on Saturdays. Helen wondered if Bill had always only had sex on the weekends? Regardless, Florence was having a difficult time figuring out how to be a wife rather than a mistress. Helen also sensed that Florence was somewhat apprehensive about her age and losing that youthful drive that had made her successful. 

Helen looked at the notes. She never used the words "classic case," because each client was different, had had a different life, different systems influence them, and required different treatments. Instead, she used the word "development issue." It was her common go-to diagnosis. She believed that most problems people encountered were due to malformed growth. Perhaps they missed a chance to change, or were just then struggling to decide something. In Florence's case, she was facing the development into the later years of life, and struggling with that new identity. Decreased sex life and enjoyment (something she blamed on her new spouse), as well as fear of losing her edge. All of this was combined with a completely new lifestyle of mutual accountability. Helen decided to give Florence a few more sessions before they moved into interventions. 

As she was finished her after-session paperwork, her office phone rang. Her secretary said it was BC. To protect client's confidentiality, she would shorten their names for everything but the insurance paperwork. BC was Bel Caldwell. She knew immediately what he was calling for. 

"I take it you have your new assignment?" she asked, feeling no need to act coy. 

"You could have warned me, Helen," came the rather terse reply from the other end of the phone. "Did they tell you what case they gave me?" No. Why would they? They had only wanted to know if it was medically acceptable to force him to do his job again. "A child." The word meant nothing. A child what? Runaway? Kidnapping? "Murder." That stung. She had counseled parents, police officers, and others in the death of a child. She knew that often times, police officers would become emotionally involved in the case, sometimes to a breaking point. "I'm not ready for this." 

"Bel," she began, "I think you are." She didn't know, really. He could be. He should be. Because she wasn't one prone to being wrong, he had to be. "You have to get back to work at some point." She hadn't realize this, or anything like it, would be the first case. "Look, I know this is going to be tough."

"I can't tell Dalica, and she's usually the one I would be able to talk to," he said. She had tried to encourage more reliance upon one another in their sessions, to return back to how it was before the accident. But somehow, hearing him say this gave her a momentary twinge of jealousy. "And, if I have to work more than my usual hours, what am I supposed to say to her?" And what if they could no longer meet for their after-session follow-up?

Helen thought for a few seconds before saying, "I rarely counsel a client to lie to his or her partner, but maybe you need to think about a few of them before the case gets going. This is going to be a test for Dalica, too. In the end, this case may be the push she needs to return to a healthy life, Bel." She knew she was lying even before she said those words. Counselors don't lie to their clients, she repeated to herself. Instead, they create fictions. This was her fiction for him, something that would help him digest the case and do his own part about getting back to real life. "And, while you can't talk to her, we can incorporate some of this into our regular sessions if you want." After all, they usually had about 10 or so minutes after their love-making was done. It was usually just enough time to clean up and take his co-pay. 

She heard Bel sigh. "Bel, call the office if you need something, but otherwise, you need to do this." They parted with their usual stilted words, betraying no emotion because no emotion was held except that of client-counselor. 

She looked at the clock. Five minutes before the next client arrived. It wasn't really enough time to review her notes, but this was a new client anyway. The intake had been prepared but it didn't really reveal anything beyond what the client thought the problem was. She would learn more about the client during the first session than any intake form could reveal. She scanned it, however. TB, a 12 year old, sent by his foster family. The notes said "sent" which Helen understood to mean that the family wasn't coming with him. No major problems, only adjustment issues. That's common enough, Helen thought. After all, a foster child had most likely been a abandoned at least once by someone close to them. Now, the child was alone in going to see a therapist. 

She calmed herself, clearing the air from her previous client and re-centering her attention to the client that was about to walk through the door. Her ritual of choice was simply breathing and emptying her mind. She was never really excited about new clients, and less so about children. She maintained that part of the practice as more of a feel-good exercise than any serious concern of hers. 

She glanced at her clock, three minutes past the hour — three minutes past the start of the session. She buzzed her secretary but no answer. She went to the door to open it up, and with a startle, she noticed a rather homely child simply standing in front of it. She looked down, smiled, and motioned for him to come in. 

The boy could not have been more than seventy pounds wet. A dirty t-shirt, with some superhero symbol emblazoned on the chest, and a similarly soiled pants covered his body. He was a cross between frail and skeletal, perhaps due to some anxiety and subsequent loss of appetite. The boy's skin almost sagged. His black hair looked matted, perhaps with some dirt or something. He smelled like wet dog, but the weather wasn't raining outside. He tracked in mud, promptly sat down on the sofa, an action that looked to cause him some considerable pain. His eyes looked cloudy, with a hue of depression blotting the skin around them. His shoulders sagged. The boy exuded anguish, and the need to be hugged. 

Helen stilled herself. She found her chair, a seat of judgment some clients called it, and offered the boy something to drink. He casually nodded. It wasn't a polite nod no, but rather a simple shift of the head that was neither soft nor jerking, almost like a still-shift. 

"Tyler, I'm Helen and it is a pleasure to meet you today." She paused, waiting to see if he would respond. Her instincts told her that he wanted to be heard, but would not speak for a while. That's fine. The state had her contracted for 20 sessions. She could most likely eke out five more or maybe ten if necessary. Of course, they paid her at a considerably reduced rate, the savings which she counted on her tax returns. Twenty sessions would make her less in immediate income, but save her some in the long run. Anymore than that, she would lose money overall. Although, of course, she wasn't a psychologist for the money. "Tyler, I want you to know, you don't have to talk if you don't want to. This place is for you to come and talk or be quiet. You are safe here to be you. But, I am still required to talk a little so I will have to do that." 

The boy looked up without turning his head. 

She was already making progress. 

Then he lowered his eyes once more. 

Damn, she thought. That speech worked about a quarter of the time, anyway. Oh well, on to something else. "Tyler, the intake form says you are having trouble adjusting to your new situation. I am supposed to help you with that. To do so, I need to know more about you. So, maybe you can help me. Can you tell me one thing about yourself?"

She waited. Nothing. She waited a few more minutes. He didn't move. She couldn't even tell if he was breathing. 

"I see. So, how about we talk about something else." She looked at the shirt. "That's a Batman symbol, right?" He almost nodded. "I've seen some of those movies. I really liked the new ones." She kept the sentences short and took measured breathes between them. "I bet you didn't know, but when I was your age, they made several Batman movies. And, before I was born, they made one that even had a Batman anti-shark spray." She waited a few minutes before continuing. "Do you like any other superheros?"

Nothing. No move. Nothing. He kept sitting there, staring at the ground. He wasn't even fidgeting. 

"Tyler, it looks like you need to maybe just be quiet for a while and that's okay." She decided to affirm his stance and put him in charge. "If it is okay with you, I need to catch up on some paperwork. I'm going to my desk, but when you are ready, I'll be right back over here to listen to you." He made no move to indicate he had heard her. She almost wondered if he had had a hearing problem. She got up slowly and walked over to her desk. She could actually do needed paperwork, so it wasn't a lie, but her move in this situation was more about giving distance to the client while continuing to analyze him. 

For the next half-hour or so, she pretended to shuffle papers, check her email, and do others things all the while making mental notes that would later be compiled. Tyler was despondent. He had shut himself off to the world, buried under years of abandonment, neglect, and maybe even abuse. Something had happened to him to shove him into that premature mental grave, something that kept him from caring for himself or anything around him. Yes, he had adjustment issues but only because he didn't know where he was, where he was supposed to be, and where he was going. If she could rescue him, maybe he wouldn't end up in a mental institution, but rather would be a contributing member of society. 

Nearing the end of the session, she got up and walked back to her chair, slowly and purposely so as to not startle the client. She glided herself into her chair, and picked up her pen and pad. "Tyler," she began in a lowered, but not a whisper, tone, "the session is about over for today. We've arranged for you to return same time next week, but before you go, is there anything you want to say." 

Tyler, for the first time since he lowered himself onto the sofa, moved his body with enough intent so as to be seen. He looked up, his darkly hued face and wet eyes piercing her. He parted his lips just a little and seemed to mouth the words, "thank you." 

Helen was almost ready to sit another hour, but she did have clients – better paying clients – coming soon. She needed her break and she hated delays. She simply smiled, and mimicked his "thank you" with a "you're welcome." She stood up, bringing him up with her. It was a natural moved used the world over when you wanted someone to leave without having to tell them. 

She watched as he walked out the door. She jotted her notes down and started to clear her mind. She had trouble shaking the feeling that this was going to be that one client that changed her — that one client every therapist has or has had that transforms mediocre talent into something that proves their calling. She suddenly felt good about Tyler-as-client. She made a note to wait until the fifth session to ask for more time from the State. She may even get to publish his as a case study, or who knows, a complete volume. Wouldn't that be nice, she thought, to be a highly respected psychologist and published author because of a boy who just didn't fit into life anymore. 

____

The diner was rather empty. It was nearing 8, Bel guessed, so the dinner crowd had long since left. He had stopped in because he needed a moment to compose himself — his lie, rather — before going home to Dalica. He had grabbed a coffee — decaf, which was usually an abomination but required at night so as to give sleep a chance later. After last night, or this morning, he would need the rest. 

He started flipping through the file, reading tidbits about Daniels as well as about the case. The boy was named Patrick, Patrick Cox. He was almost 7 and has been reported missing three months ago by his parents. They had come home to find him missing, but had told the police in the missing person's report that they had only been at the neighbor's house, next door, for about half an hour. Patrick would usually stay in the playroom. They had done this a few times, the father told the investigating officer. 

The waitress, an older but still beautiful woman, asked if he wanted a refill and maybe a dessert. Beautiful, but she did have an edge in her voice as if to say "order something so I can get a tip." Bel obliged her and ordered a cherry pie slice. While he waited for order, he flipped through the original reports, to see if anything stood out. 

"Help me!" Bel froze. He must have slipped asleep. He was explainable. He was emotionally tired as well as physically. But he didn't think he had fallen asleep. The voice was familiar — the one from the dream! Bel felt a cold shiver on his shoulders, with his cackles suddenly stiff. He must have dozed for a second. And the dream must still be lingering. He hoped he wouldn't have to hold onto it for too much longer. 

The pie was placed before him, which he quickly ate, finishing his coffee along with it. It was dry, perhaps left over from this morning. Regardless, Bel left a tip as large as the bill, picked up his folder, and continued on his way. 

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